By the numbers: Putt for dough? Ballstriking the most important stat on Tour

ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 09: Dustin Johnson of the United States plays his shot from the third tee during the first round of the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club on August 9, 2018 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

By the numbers: Putt for dough? Ballstriking the most important stat on Tour

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By the numbers: Putt for dough? Ballstriking the most important stat on Tour

Peter Kostis has a degree in chemical engineering from the University of New Hampshire, so he knows all about working with formulas and mixing ingredients. As a CBS Sports on-course analyst and long-time coach, he also understands the recipe for winning a modern PGA Tour event. He’s sure it is not driving for show and putting for dough.

“You’ll find that the winner in any given week is probably going to lead the field in hitting approach shots inside 10 feet,” Kostis said. “Good ballstrikers stay on Tour a lot longer than good putters.”

For decades it was thought that what separated the game’s elite players from the competition was putting, and that to win a player had to be a lights-out putter. But the data collected by PGA Tour’s ShotLink system does not support that notion.

Heading into the PGA Championship, there were 24 golfers who had a scoring average of 70 or lower on the PGA Tour. The pie chart below shows their average in the four strokes gained categories.

As a group, 24 players with the lowest scoring average have their most significant edge over the competition in the fairway, with their combined strokes gained approach-the-green average being 0.494 (35 percent). Over the course of a 72-hole tournament, that means the quality of their iron play and approach shots give them almost a two-shot advantage over the average player.

Their combined average advantage off the tee is almost as substantial, 0.4 (28 percent). But putting provides their smallest strokes gained edge: 0.247 (18 percent). Eight of the 24 players who had a scoring average of 70 or below before the start of the PGA Championship – Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Cantlay and Rafa Cabrera Bello – had a strokes gained putting average that was negative. That means they give away strokes on the greens but are still among the leaders in scoring average.

No one would argue that solid putting can help golfers shoot lower scores. To illustrate the point further, the chart below shows the correlation between strokes gained putting and scoring average before the start of the PGA Championship.

As you can see, the players with the lowest scoring averages tend to be good putters, such as Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas and Jason Day. But several excellent putters have relatively high scoring averages. Greg Chalmers and Daniel Summerhays ranked third and fifth, respectively, in strokes gained putting through last week, and Chalmers’ scoring average was 72.531 (195th) while Summerhays’ was 73.171 (201st).

A look at the stats for the top 30 players on the Official World Golf Ranking shows similar results. Their collective strokes gained approach-the-green average is 0.402 (33 percent), while their strokes gained putting is 0.244 (20 percent).

These numbers are similar to the findings Columbia University professor Mark Broadie published in his 2014 book, “Every Shot Counts.” He found that for the top 40 golfers in the strokes gained total from 2004 to 2012, 40 percent (0.45) of their strokes gained advantage came from approach shots, 28 percent (0.32) came from driving, 17 percent (0.19) was from short game and 15 percent (0.17) was attributable to putting. Only one player in that group, Ben Crane, had a negative strokes gained approach-the-green average during that period (-0.04), but 12 of the 40 had a negative strokes gained putting average.

The numbers don’t lie. Any golfer would rather be a great putter than a poor putter, but the aspect of the game that separates elite players from average players on the PGA Tour is ballstriking. Gwk

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